(STAR) By Nelson Beltran - The SMC-RP team has gone through the first ladder in its bid to make the Beijing Olympics, clinching a slot in the FIBA-Asia Olympic qualifier with a 102-72 shellacking of Malaysia at the Ratchaburi Gymnasium here last night.

The Nationals hit heavily from afar and easily crushed the Malaysians’ brave challenge to all but wrap up the 2007 SEABA men’s championship.

They close out their campaign in the five-nation, five-day tourney versus host Thailand at 4 p.m. today.

“We’ve accomplished the mission in this trip. Now, we’re going to achieve our goal in Tokushima,” said RP team coach Chot Reyes.

Reyes and his troops face the Asian giants in Tokushima, Japan in July as they seek to qualify for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. They need to make no less than the Tokushima final to gain their supreme goal of a return stint in the Olympics.

The Philippines, which last played in the Olympics in 1972 in Munich, is embarking on at least two more international trips as the Nationals gear up for Tokushima where the Chinese, Koreans, Lebanese, Qataris, Syrians and Iranians are among their chief rivals.

As in their first two games here, the Nationals took awhile to get their game going. They got into the groove in the second quarter and punished the Malaysians the rest of the way.

Renren Ritualo came out with his guns ablaze in the second period and the Nationals took the cue, shaking loose from a 21-all standoff.

Ritualo went 9-of-12 from the three-point area and led all scorers with 27 points with Mark Caguioa adding 20 and Danny Seigle 14.

“Renren is our zone-buster. He’s our 10th or 11th man but he’s always ready to deliver. It’s hard to find a player to play that role for this team,” said Reyes of Ritualo.

“I just wanted to help and prove that I deserve to be in the team,” said Ritualo.

Three-pointers unleashed by Ritualo, Jimmy Alapag and Mick Pennisi gave the RP squad a 53-36 spread at halftime.

Ritualo rattled in five three-pointers coming off the bench while Alapag and Pennisi added two apiece fuelling the team’s second-quarter breakaway.

The Nationals actually took command at 21-13 in the opening period but the Malaysians came through with an 8-0 run bridging the two opening quarters to pull even at 21-all.

But it was all-Philippine show in the last three quarters.

The Nationals totaled 16 treys on a high 55-percent shooting from beyond the arc. Curiously, they were better there than in the two-point zone where they converted 49 percent of their shots

The Philippines punished the Malaysia at the paint with Taulava, Enrico Villanueva, Kerby Raymundo and Ranidel de Ocampo doing the damage.

Seigle struck from inside and out, delivering the exclamation point in his solid performance on a thunderous jam off Malaysian defender Soo Eng Heng making it 68-45 for the Philippines.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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